Giant Pandas Are Poorly Designed

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Pandas are simply not good at making more pandas. Recently, however, researchers have made progress in helping pandas breed. This BBC article provides a good overview of the situation. Ultimately, the issue seems to be that giant pandas are poorly designed:

  • Female pandas are only in heat for 72 hours each year. Even worse, they can only actually get pregnant during a 12 to 24 hour window in that time.

  • Male pandas have small penises, requiring a very exact position to mate. Voyeuristic researchers found that pandas did not seem to know the required position very well.

  • Pandas subsist on a diet of nothing but bamboo. Bamboo contains so few nutrients that pandas in the wild spend up to 10 hours each day consuming as much as 50 pounds of it.

  • Pandas often give birth to twins, but mothers abandon the weaker of the two, causing it to perish.

Fortunately, at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center, scientists have found a way to save those abandoned cubs. When a cub is abandoned, it’s rescued and placed in an incubator. The keepers then continuously swap the abandoned cub and the cub which was originally kept, causing the mother to keep them both alive until they’re old enough to live on their own.

The scientists call their strategy “twin swapping”, and it’s proven to be a great leap forward in raising panda reproduction numbers. However, it also exposes another severe design flaw in the Giant Panda:

  • Pandas are not smart enough to tell when they’re being made to care for two different cubs instead of just one.

You may think that a more charitable interpretation is that the pandas understand the deception, but don’t care. However, if that’s the case it’s actually worse, because that would boil down to “Pandas are not smart enough to know they’re capable of caring for two cubs instead of one”.

It really seems like pandas were just not designed to be in it for the long haul.


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